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Lawns Require Much Attention To Detail
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many people don't realize there is an art to mowing a yard, especially if the turf is to thrive and look good.
Dr. Mike Goatley, Mississippi State University associate professor/agronomist, said the type of grass determines its care. St. Augustine grasses need to be cut at 2 to 3 inches tall, centipede at 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches, and Bermuda and zoysia at 1 to 2 inches.
Although most lawns require mowing about once a week, Bermuda and St. Augustine varieties grow very fast and should be cut every three to four days, Goatley said.
The rule of thumb with mowing grass is to never remove more than one third the leaf blade at one time. Removing more can damage the turf.
On seriously neglected yards, Goatley recommended gradually lowering the grass level to the desired height.
"Don't scalp it, no matter what the temptation," he said. "Since the yard already looks bad, a few more days won't hurt."
He recommended the first cut should lower the height by about half, then subsequent weekly trimmings can take the turf to the desired level.
"If you remove 70 to 80 percent of the leaf, you put the turf in shock and it has a hard time bouncing back," Goatley said.
A big question with mowing is what to do with the clippings.
Dr. David Tatum, MSU extension horticulturist, recommended against bagging lawns whenever possible. Bagging was previously recommended to prevent grass from piling up on the lawn in a thatch and killing the turf underneath.
But regular mowing or using a mulching mower prevent this from happening. It also returns the nutrients from the clipped grass back into the soil.
"If you don't remove the grass clippings, it breaks down into food for the grass," Tatum said. "It helps the soil organisms work and live and thrive in the soil. You also don't have a disposal problem."
Calling grass clippings a form of slow-release fertilizers, Goatley said not enough people mulch or leave clippings on the ground. Return clippings can meet 30 to 40 percent of the turf's yearly fertility needs, he said.
Goatley said mulching mowers do a good job of chopping grass into small pieces that biodegrade quickly. Most mulcher blades added to normal lawn mowers do tend to cut the clippings into small pieces, but are not a great improvement over normal blades, Goatley said.
"As long as you mow your yard regularly, you shouldn't have to rake or mulch," he said. "If mowing leaves mounds of grass, the lawn has been allowed to grow too much and should be mulched or raked and used as compost for other plants."
As temperatures begin to stay warm, yard-owners will need to start fertilizing, applying herbicides and paying attention to the water needs of the turf. Soil tests run every two to three years will determine the quality of the soil and what nutrients should be added.
During dry periods, Tatum said yards should be watered at the rate of 1 inch a week.
"Water the yard thoroughly at a rate that will allow the water to percolate down into the soil and not run off," Tatum said.
A sharp blade is the final element in a well-manicured lawn. Lawnmower blades should be sharpened every six weeks for the best cut, but at least two to three times a growing season.